Monday, May 16, 2016

The Yoga of the Golden Flower

The Yoga of the Golden Flower
by the Wanderer

“There are ways but Way is uncharted
There are names but not Nature in words

Nameless indeed is the source of creation

But things have a mother and she has a name.

      Thus begins a Chinese poem. Authorless as it has come down to modern times, eighty-one stanzas comprising the Tao Te Ching or the Way of Life introduces the reader into the teachings of Taoism. The poem presupposes an attitude toward existence that the average person, caught up in his daily preoccupations, seldom appreciates. For hidden behind the lines is a cosmology that situates man and Cosmos intimately together. Human consciousness and the vast complex universe are viewed as the inner sphere and the outer sphere of the same existence. Both spheres are inseparable from mutual influence. Both, in the last analysis, obey the same laws. The moving shapes of the phenomenal world respond to the actuated laws, and yet these laws derive from a common, immovable and silent origin: the undivided One.
      Only the way of Nature is the derivative of the One. Someone living through the four seasons is hardly aware of their gradual transitions. Nature is still while it affects and directs control over all. Nature’s way of acting without action became the foundation for the esoteric vision of Taoism.

the way is always still, at rest,
And yet does everything that is done

Taoism intuits the One mysteriously as the cosmic, ultimate, absolute principle underlying form and substance, being and change. Omniscient, though beyond reason to comprehend, it remains immanent and yet transcendent, omnipotent and eternal. As inexhaustible, it stays nameless. In poetry and experience only can one hope to brush against its presence.
From sticks and stones to men and meteors, everything in the fluctuating world achieves its goal by following its natural path. With one’s feet on the ground, one can still see that the star-filled sky exposes constellations moving in their convoluted and distinct ways. The expanding order and beauty of the evening heavens persistently whispers within the heart the echo that one too has an inexorable path to travel. All things, then, in heaven and earth are governed by path, the Way of Tao.
human conforms to the earth
the earth conforms to the sky
the sky conforms to the Way
the Way conforms to its own nature

      Since heaven and earth are the human terrain, one participates in their phenomenal activities, subject to the multi-colored drama of Nature. Success along any path depends upon discerning the laws of life and returning oneself to them just as the stars, knowing their course, proceed along it.

the movement of the Way is a return,
in acceptance lies its major usefulness,
from what is all the world of things was born
but what is sprang in turn from what-is-not?

The Way is not concerned with the Chinese moralism of the School of Confucius (551-479 BCE) In the Analects, Confucian though, together with the Way, places emphasis upon order and returning to the roots of life. But these similarities are only temporary; the more one compares the works, the earlier their directions part. Confucius was preoccupied with civil living. His writings are the formation of codes of conduct and deportment. He stipulates more than 3,000 rules for attending to life’s complications, informing the community on how to perform daily protocol with a codified humanism. While brilliantly pragmatic, he never ventures beyond the moral sphere.
      The Way, on the other hand, serves neither a culture nor a moral code. These latter human creations easily become self-contained in academia and political systems, each momentarily enjoying favor from the reigning court before falling into historical oblivion. These prescriptions are limited, artificially contrived, halting the pursuit of life. Nature’s secret, the constant, normative Way from which no event and no pretext is exempt, is disclosed only to those who can be rid of inhibiting ambitions or cultural prejudices about life. Obsessive preoccupation with accomplishments only obscures the Way.
      While expressive of the Way, the phenomenal world is not the One. You can easily abstract a particular cycle in nature and rearrange its energies for his external goals. By imposing the laws of his ambition upon nature’s plasticity, you merely forestall the inevitable. Grasping a fraction of nature’s laws, one identifies a portion as the whole of life and settles into its brief pattern. A rich man lingers with his wealth as a beggar preserves his poverty—both in their ambitions straying and dissipating their life’s energies, competing without finding the One. In Nature’s eyes we are rebels inducing eventual bankruptcy. Yet Nature compassionately gives humans, in more ways than one, a chance to breathe. The sense of loss may lead one closer to the Way, for loss gives pause and restful reflection. Not the lingering of the weary, the repose of the apathetic, but the bright rest of the unborn.    Becoming unborn from the prickly pursuit of competing in the phenomenal world, affords a gradual return to one’s pristine spirit. This return to the unborn state enters one into the silent ground that seeds the mysterious Golden Flower. Normally, man scatters his energies through his senses into the flux of life, producing ever more epicycles of action. Pursuing these cycles attracts in turn the birth of convoluted desires vying for external completion. With action and desire compelling one another, the irresistible inertia of life wears on endlessly.

the secret waits for the insight
of eyes unclouded by longing,
those who are bound by desire
see only the outward container

      Nature, however, can hardly avoid action; it fulfills its seasons through inexorable action—the action of its essence. To the contrary, wayward action subverts the human essence. Humans disconnect from Nature. Exactly how does one disconnect? What action is our concern here? The inexorable action that underlies and sustains every human action, that connects us to Nature herself—the action of breathing. Thought, muscular activity, local motion, any mental or bodily activity of a living human is inconceivable without breathing. The human problem is not action of itself but the restless action that provokes irregular and excessive outflow of breath.
      As Nature circulates through the four seasons fulfilling its path, so the circulation of breath allows one to live through the year. By studying the movement of breath, one discovers the natural laws of breathing. The first awareness is that one can patiently bring it under control; for controlling the breath controls external action. Returning into one’s breath is the crucial process of being unborn from the restless world. At the time of his physical birth, the primal conscious spirit inhales the vital energy and thus dwells breathingly in the phenomenal world. Now the primal consciousness pulsates the breathing. Then the bodily-spirit pursues movement, and by those actions remains bound to its feeling for them. Desires abound. Night and day one wastes the primal energy by excessively discharging it in desired, ever restless movements.

What is to be shrunken
is first stretched out,
what is to be weakened
is first made strong,
what will be thrown over
is first raised up,
what will be withdrawn
is first bestowed

      The primal energy must be retrieved. The Way beckons the backward-flow of breath. The subtle action of the return to the Oneness of primal consciousness is through amending the diffusion of breathing. The gentle amendment of the circulation of the breath subsides the discharge of the vital energy. Sensation and unmanageable thinking subdue. Pausing, resting ushers one into the very experience of the quiet root of action. Stillness is the hidden passageway. The secret of the magic of life, of discovering the Golden Flower, consists in the paradoxical learning to use action in order to attain non-action. Instead of relentlessly externalizing action, man allows it to subside. The circulation of controlled breathing continues, but quickens an inner circulation of awareness. When the Chinese characters for Golden and Flower are vertically touching, the combined figure means “light”. With the practice of the backward-flow, the gradual diminishment of the movement of breath increases the circulating light of awareness bringing the primal energy more and more under self-control. The expanding stillness brings one into silent intuition with the formative processes found throughout Nature. In knowing the silent essence of heaven and earth, Nature yields up her supreme laws. A woman, a man, is born again inward.
      The light, the awareness, that flows within is not in the body alone. One sees that mountains and rivers, the awesome heavens and earth are lit by the sun of one’s awareness. This light-flower fills and covers all spaces. The rhythmical breath and the circulation of light nourish the roots of living, revivifying the primal spirit.  As the light circulates, heaven and earth circulate. But the practitioner must endure through the seasons. Many times and climes are to pass before the flower emerges. Throughout actions return to non-action. Movement ebbs back to its rest.  All seasons proceed and end in silence. Heaven and earth recede into the One. For humans have recovered their divine nature—the Golden Flower blooms.                              
Then peace is the goal of the Way                     
by which no one ever goes astray.”

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Socrates’ Achilles Heel

   Socrates’ Achilles Heel

The Paterfamilias of Western philosophy is none other than that loquacious, intrepid Greek, Plato. His writings, called Dialogues, are more enshrined in scholars’ minds than the Lincoln Memorial. No college course in the history of philosophy would be worth its value without a Dialogue or two.
 Plato’s canonization, however, is mostly a modern invention.  Now the problem with erecting pedestals is that adorers look askance upon anyone that might dare subject their idol to criticism. Needless to say, messengers with audacious comments, plausibly true, supposedly have short careers.
 Plato’s hero in the Dialogues is a chap called Socrates. A moot question among scholars still is whether he truly existed or plays Plato’s alter ego? In either choice, the reader finds him graphically portrayed as an everyday sort of fellow, a badgered spouse, always willing to raise a pint at the Pub, and not drawing attention to himself except that once you invited his responses to your declarations on timely subjects like law, friendship, love, politics, deities, happiness, etc., you were caught in his rapier of replies that eventually probed and lured you into contradicting yourself to admit your embarrassing ignorance on the matter that you so recently proclaimed professional knowledge. He seemed to go out of his way to find discussions down around city square. Hence the various Dialogues on major ideas that enthralls us.
This gentle, self–effacing individual, once a soldier, who always apologized for his unknowing, no doubt with a wink, became such an embarrassment to the public, according to the beleaguered City fathers, that he was indicted for leading the citizens astray with his interminable ability to expose publicly their pompous paucity of knowledge. How dare him profess ignorance, only a “midwife” was his term for himself, and then dismantle his interlocutors’ insipid arguments and turn them inside out in such a way that the inevitable question arises in their minds: who were they ever to conceive such vacuous ideas. In getting these gentlemen to reexamine the logic of their ideas, he inexorably forced them to pierce their stately splendor for what it was.

 “I have no concern at all for what most people are concerned about: financial affairs, administration of property, appointments to generalships, oratorical triumphs in public, magistracies, coalitions, political factions. I did not take this path…but rather the one where I could do the most good to each one of you in particular, by persuading you to be less concerned with what you have than with what you are; so that you may make yourselves as excellent and as rational as possible.”

           Of course he endeared himself by repeating:
“What? Dear friend, you are an Athenian, citizen of a city greater and more famous than any other for its science and its power, and you do not blush at the fact that you give care to your fortune, in order to increase it as much as possible, and to your reputation and your honors; but when it comes to your thought, to  your truth, to your soul, which you ought to be improving, you have no care for it, and you don’t think of it.”  

Ancient Athens in the 5th century was praised for it democratic institutions and its fostering of cultural arts. In this atmosphere, humane living and philosophy, the quest for wisdom, walked hand in hand for Socrates. Yet the citizens, especially the leaders of the community, wasted their innate endowment. As he puts it:

”I don't know anything that gives me greater pleasure, or profit either, than talking or listening to philosophy. But when it comes to ordinary conversation, such as the stuff you talk about financiers and the money market, well, I find it pretty tiresome personally, and I feel sorry that my friends should think they're being very busy when they're really doing absolutely nothing. Of course, I know your idea of me: you think I'm just a poor unfortunate, and I shouldn't wonder if you’re right. But then I don't think that you're unfortunate - I know you are.”

Without self-scrutiny, then one lives for whims. Philosophy or not, Athens’ democratic vision still led it to a twenty-seven years war of expansion with Sparta. Along its way, when the Melians on the island of Melos would not submit to Athens, they were massacred and Thucydides, the historian of the war, wrote:

"The Athenians thereupon put to death all who were of military age,                            
and made slaves of the women and children."

Even then democracies have a hard time resisting the call to an imperial destiny. Liberal at home is one thing, so much for democracy abroad.
 Athens lost the war. Meanwhile, the gadfly’s career was decades old, yet curiously, in the midst of the country’s recovery, he now became too dangerous. The city fathers brought charges of relentlessly undermining their religious beliefs and being far too influential with the younger generation. His critical assessments were ‘corrupting the youth,’ as they put it. Speaking your mind on certain topics makes one an outlaw. He’s gone too far. Shame, he wasn’t politically correct. The powers at large became infuriated with him for molesting their pretentious minds. He was indicted as a threat to the state’s safety. His civil disobedience can’t  be tolerated. Off to the hemlock and death.
 Into this intellectual skirmish, let us parallel a nineteenth century fellow philosopher who, likewise, was a dauntless appraiser of society’s follies. Henry Thoreau differed from our Greek curmudgeon in that his preferred sauntering was less the hurly, burly hub of the city than the seasonal beauties of the woods near Concord, Massachusetts. A solitary man, the author of Walden was a joyful self-explorer who drew immensely upon Nature for his inspirations while keeping a critical eye on the civic scene.

‘I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts            of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, to            discover that I had not lived.’

Simplicity of life was crucial. He would thoroughly concur with Socrates that the unexamined life ain’t worth living. Equally, he would agree with him that government is an improvable thing yet within the border ‘that government is best which governs least.’ Perhaps the gadfly might refrain from going that far.
 Thoreau was outraged at the government policy fostering slavery and its preemptive invasion of Mexico (seems familiar?). Government exhorted among citizens the grand mania of “Manifest Destiny,” a self-righteous piece of propaganda whereby it entitled itself to expand unopposed across the continent and beyond. With God on our side, the question of right or wrong was incidental.
Among his fellow citizens, his personal, unconventional appraisals on these matters appeared almost radical. He opposed taxation to support the government’s unjust mandates, as well as any Church assuming it could tax. He was jailed for refusing to pay a poll tax. While incarcerated, a friend paid the penalty so that our author stayed but a night. Unembittered by those hours, that very evening, amazingly, birthed a shooting star of human liberation called “Civil Disobedience.” In this manifesto, he renders his vision for responsible citizenship.
 Since Thoreau believes that government is basically self-serving with their policies enforcing expediency, he nuances, "It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right.” For him, it is not the needed absence of government so much as a more responsive government that does not attempt to dictate individual morality.

He states: "Let every man make known what kind of government would command his       respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it." What makes the unexamined State so dangerous is that in its essence it “…never intentionally confronts a man’s sense, intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses. It is not armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength.”
Would Socrates pause at this point?

The word got out on his unorthodox stance. In calmly discerning his neighbors’ reactions,             “I saw to what extent the people among whom I lived could be trusted as good neighbors        and friends; that their friendship was for summer weather only; that they did not greatly   propose to do right; that they were a distinct race from me by their prejudices and superstitions.”
Yet no cynicism for this man, instead he pondered: (1) Why do some men obey laws without inquiring if the laws are just or unjust; and, (2) why do so many obey laws they think are wrong? In his observation, it is the unwarranted respect for the law that motivates citizens unthinkingly to comply and soldiers to fight in wars against their better judgement. Would not Socrates applaud?
Condemned, Socrates awaits his fate. Interestingly, he could have just walked away, lenient as the guards were, or taken advantage of his students’ aid to escape.
            Pierre Hadot, a French scholar on the Ancients, sees Socrates refusal to depart “…as his duty and that to which he must sacrifice everything, even his life, is obedience to the laws of the city.” Along with many other modern scholars, he would herald Socrates for his undeviating compliance. In fact, the scholars’ hero went even further; he voluntarily took his own poison before the state had its chance.
 Since Socrates willingly submits to fulfilling the state’s laws as being virtuous, then one wonders how he could cheat the government of doing its duty? Where did the scholars’ role model get the right to preempt the Officials by committing suicide? For someone who so imperatively insists on submission to the laws—verbatim—is not his choice guilty of hypocrisy?
Socrates’ suicide compounds the state’s injustice. His self-demeaning death matches the state’s fatuous ruling. His maneuver has not cheated the accusers, as the Dialogue implies, but saved the elitist government the meager price of execution. An obvious reaction of the aristocracy is to gloat over his demise. The Officials got their way. The gadfly is no more.
By his death, Socrates confirms himself a conventional, indiscriminate volunteer to the service of government dictates. Instead of accepting exile and thus continuing, with shrewd foresight, his protest for the unexamined life, his suicide stands in utter contradiction to his proclaimed lifestyle. Heretofore stood the dauntless challenger in his passion for truth in action relentlessly exposing his opponents self-serving assumptions, now genuflecting to their verdict. Thoreau proposes, in contrast, that "Action from principle, the perception and the performance of right, changes things and relations; it is essentially revolutionary." No revolutionary here in Athens. To the dismay of his comrades and citizens, his suicide acquiesces to the state and thus diminishes any spark for the citizens’ intelligent revolution against the injustice of the corrupt government.
The gadfly cross-stitches patriotism with morality. This equation is repeatedly emphasized in history to this day by edacious governments who arouse the citizens to do its bidding. Socrates embraces it wholeheartedly. Easily, the mindless slogan: ‘Love country, right or wrong,” would be his banner. On this basis, citizens should be suppliant conformists to the pragmatic declarations of government. The price for this compliance merely deteriorates individual integrity. By forfeiting conscience to the legislator, one assumes the state an absolute.
            Plato, ala Socrates, wants nothing less than monarchical patriotism wherein the state can do no wrong. In the Crito Dialogue, he assures his students that he owes the state:

“…I must obey the law. True, Athens has committed an injustice against me by ordering me to die for speaking my mind. But if I complained about this injustice, Athens could rightly say, ‘We brought you into the world, we raised you, we educated you, we gave you and every other citizen a share of all the good things we could…Are we not, first of all, your parents? Through us your father took your mother and brought you into this world.”

Lest we forget, he reminds us,
“Are you too wise to see our country is worthier, more to be revered, more sacred, and held in higher honor both by the gods and by all men of understanding, than you father and your mother and all your other ancestors; that you ought to reverence it and to submit to it…and to obey in silence if it orders you to endure flogging or imprisonment or if it send you to battle to be wounded or to die!”   

            Any lingering doubts whom are his real parents? Hardly, they are the ones sending him, on a tromped up charge, to his demise. Ergo, how could anyone say no to such loving custodians?  With blind allegiance to that sublime artifice—the state---he now becomes the apostle of civil obedience. Would not Thoreau slowly shake his head, musing how could there be an enlightened State until it recognize the individual as a higher and independent power from which all its own power and authority are derived?
            So Socrates leaves the shackles of his body for the realm of Plato’s gods.

 And near the end of his life, Thoreau was asked,
 “Have you made your peace with God?”
 He replied, “I did not know we had ever quarreled.”

            Sorry, Socrates, you possess rhetorical skills, but you lack what it takes to be a full-fledged philosopher---an unyielding sense of sovereign integrity.

                                                                                                                           The Wanderer
Hadot, Pierre. Philosophy as a Way of Life
Plato. Dialogues
Thoreau, Henry. Civil Disobedience
Thucydides. The History of the Peloponnesian War.

Saturday, December 5, 2015


       One of the most common recommendations to aspirants, as proscribed in the ancient manuals, is to adopt the practice of  “ giving up or surrendering or renouncing the fruits of one’s actions.” For many these words have a sacrosanct ring to them, implying that spiritual progress is seriously impaired without voluntarily being dispossessed or ‘detached’ from one’s ‘fruits.’
         You decide to bake a surprise cake for your friend’s birthday.
         Your action begins by collecting the required utensils and ingredients. You prepare the batter and submit it to the oven heat in a timely manner. Throughout the preparation, pleasant feelings of anticipation spontaneously arise.
         The baking is complete. The cake is the finished product—the fruit of both your skillful actions and your affection. You deliver the gift to your friend and it’s accepted.
         There, you offered the fruits of your action. The conventional understanding is that you give away the total result of your actions, an unselfish act on your part, and you receive nothing, zero, nor expect compensation in return. Full renunciation.
         Now let’s take an appreciative look at what occurs during this unfolding event.
         First, one can’t help but enjoy doing an action skillfully. Just take a look at  Olympic performers. Your varying moments of enjoyment arise from and accompany the ongoing result of your deliberate actions in preparing the eventual cake. If you could separate the evoked, pleasant feelings from the action then you would be doing it rather mechanically and perhaps less skillfully. But as a motivated, able cake baker you can’t help but spontaneously enjoy manifesting that skill in the production of the cake. You like what you are doing. Moreover, sight, odor, and taste confirm the worthiness of your production. You are pleased with the ensuing result.
         In other words, you don’t bake with unfeeling indifference. Your kitchen is not a vacant courtroom. On the contrary, you are enjoying the art of your baking skill as you express it throughout the preparation of your cake. This fruit of enjoyment is naturally yours.
         Secondly, the performance of your baking ability and the resulting tasty cake enhances the habit of your skill. How else to improve performance without diligent practice? Thus, unavoidably you receive the immanent fruit of your consummate action which, in turn, advances the quality of your baking ability. Again, this fruit is naturally yours.
         Thirdly, when you presented your gift that was graciously received, how did you feel in your friend’s reception of the “fruit of your actions”? Did you just turn your head away as though dismissing a traffic report? Hardly. Rather you joined in the celebration and felt glad for his positive acceptance. How could you not experience a sense of satisfaction for a job well done and appreciated? Again, this fruit is naturally yours.
         Fourthly, the cake itself, the concrete fruit of your skillful actions is not designated for its baker. The baker willingly relinquishes all claims upon the product. Possession changes hands. The baker fulfills her intent by bestowing the fruit of her labor upon the accepting hands of the principal recipient. This fruit is simply designated for him or her.
         When you perform an unselfish action towards someone, the final result does not leave zero on one side for the giver and the fullness of the gift on the other side for the receiver. Examining the unfoldment of the entire event, one perceives how all parties benefit differently. Even if the Olympic champions gave away the concrete fruits of their action—their gold medals—they would still retain the natural advancement of their skill and relish the exhilarated feelings of fruitful accomplishment.
         So, Grasshopper, are not the various fruits more than you naturally supposed? Can one unselfishly benefit another without thereby naturally benefiting oneself? — If you know what I mean.

                                                                        The Wanderer

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Oracle of Delphi Myth…a Lost Tale

         For the Greeks, only the Olympian Gods are wise, everyone else is a searcher. Yet all seek the riddle of life
         In the temple of Delphi, one could receive opportune  maxims to guide one’s destiny. 
         The Delphi Queen of mystery, Sophia,  would not tolerate arrogant simpletons who attempted to pester her with petty questions. For that intrusion one would be instantly exited.  Be aware that in her presence only one of two questions are allowed.
         You enter and await. Soon fire balls explode, cymbals ring, & clouds of perfumed mists issue forth, then She emerges.
         As you stand distraught and trembling before her Highness, She would melodiously proclaim: 
 Why do you come?’
         Remember, only two utterances qualify for her presence. You  implore:                              
                                     ‘I seek wisdom’
                                      ‘Who am I?’
     Her devastating reply to either:
         Know Thyself’… and She vanishes.
         Unknown to many scholars, as well as seekers, her inclusive words are actually half her auspicious reply and remain a conundrum for the implorer for years.
         How do I get to know myself? For that task, the seeker must first start with  the obvious, by actively knowing and embracing the world at large: her creation. As you get to know the rhyme and reason for things, you slowly discover the who that you are.               
 Ah, practical engagements with the world precede and usher in self-knowledge. The act of knowing yourself first mandates lengthy involvement in Nature and society. You savor reflecting upon your endeavors.  Acute discernment  can now grow as you discover and appraise your needs, ambitions, faults, talents, disappoints, rewards, and enterprises.                                                                                                                       One day you come upon meditation which surprises since it is an intelligible act but not a discursive activity. You sit poised in inner darkness, remembering a special sound, disinterested before the uneven flow of ideas, images, feelings.  With practice you gradually sense a feeling of tranquility and a calm emancipation from your normal and hectic preoccupations. A certain breadth of being at ease  enables you to return to the world, refreshed with surprising  insights. It dawns that you are more than your personal history or resume. You ponder: what else can I become or be ?
         Life continues. Unexpected moments of astonishment occur more frequently. Evolving in your daily awareness is the subtle fact that you are falling in love with the manifold of reality. Anxieties and fears fall by the wayside.  Intuition strengthens. Contemplation increasingly beckons.  
         Years later, an irresistible yearning stirs to return to the Temple. Older, more savvy, you stand once again before the Queen of the Cosmos  but now with an ease of solemnity.                      
         She appears amazingly the same as before:
                      ‘Why have you come? … do you not know who you are?’
         ‘Was that a twinkle in her eye’, you muse, but you can only reply:     
                                    I am grateful’
         Her gaze widens upon you awhile and smiles:    
                        ‘Since you know thyself, Oh, traveler of the winds,                                                      you possess the wisdom of the Gods.
         As she vanishes in a swirling haze of mists, you catch her eerie voice echoing in the distance:
                       ‘Fare thee well, the Universe is yours…’

         With that, life’s riddle is solved.
 The Wanderer

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Why aren’t your dreams coming true…..?

         Time for my next lesson in my intensive, three-day defensive driving clinic at the exclusive, world-renowned Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California: recovering from and controlling your vehicle through a spin.

         I was sitting behind the wheel of a brand new, bright red, full-size Dodge Ram pickup truck (with four bald tires!) with my instructor next to me in the passenger seat. We were parked at the edge of the raceway's "skid pad" which is essentially a large, wet, asphalt parking lot --- with one orange traffic cone sitting way off in the distance.

"Now I want you to drive towards the cone, accelerate to 40 miles per hour, put the truck in a spin, recover from the spin, and don't hit the cone," my instructor said matter-of-factly.

"Well that's easy," I thought. "This parking lot's so big, and that cone is so small, the odds are I won't even end up close to it!"

         I steered towards the orange cone, accelerated to 40 miles per hour, made a hard left turn, hit the brakes, and the big red truck began spinning. As I began my recovery procedures, I watch the orange cone zipping from left to right across the windshield. But as I recovered from the spin, I hit the orange cone.

"Let me try that again!" I said, feeling a bit embarrassed that I had failed such an easy maneuver . . . .

I drove us back to the starting point and accelerated toward the orange cone . . . . I hit it again!

"What's going on?!" I blurted.

"Try it again," my instructor said patiently.

Three more tries . . . and three more impacts with that orange cone!

"I can't believe this!" I said in exasperation.

"Want to know what you're doing wrong?" the instructor asked knowingly.

"Yes! This is just too weird! Tell me, please!" I shouted, hitting the steering wheel with both hands.

"You're looking at the cone," my instructor said slowly and deliberately.
"Well of course I am!" I said in defiance. "Because I don't want to hit it!" Then I realized how stupid that sounded.

Then he calmly and purposely said, "You have to look where you want your vehicle to go."

         I thought about that a few moments and then asked, "You mean I'm not doing that?!" (and realized how stupid that question must have sounded to him too!).
"No," he said, "you're looking at the cone, and that's why you keep hitting it. You have to look only where you want to go."

"Well exactly where should I look?" I asked.

He smiled and patiently answered, "Where ever you want to go."

"So it's my choice?" I asked (feeling stupid again).

"You're the driver," he responded, lifting and spreading his arms wide.

         Three more times I hit the orange cone! It was actually physically difficult to not look at it. I was slowly learning that the truck does, indeed, go where your head and eyes point, but part of me was still compelled to look at the orange cone.
On the fourth attempt, I did not hit the cone, and actually ended up on the right side of it (but still very close!).
         I kept practicing until I could place that truck exactly where I wanted it to go: to the right, the left, in front of, and even beyond that once-dreaded orange cone!

                                                                                 As told to the Wanderer

"In the long run, men hit only what they aim at. Therefore . . . they had better aim at something high."
                    Henry David Thoreau

If you feel "stuck, bored, restless" thank goodness that you do! Why? Because that's your cue, your inner prompting that you're meant to be doing something higher in your life.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Swami Rama the Fact and the Difference It Makes

                   Swami Rama the Fact and the Difference It Makes

         This essay assumes some familiarity either in person or in writings with Swami Rama’s life. Also the use of referring to him as the ‘fact’ will become clearer. In this writing, connect the facts.
         To propose a study of Swami Rama as an intriguing fact sounds strange, even impertinent. Yet to scrutinize his entire life in an empirical and empathetic factual manner may yield critical insights and implications about humanity that can’t be disclosed any other way. Unorthodox at first, this pursuit would, over time, involve absorbing, assimilating, testing, ruminating and weighing the objectivity of his factual history while subjectively and, as far as one can, equivalently entering into pertinent factual phases of the evolution of his person and career.
         Plainly, we seek and assess the practical implications of what the business of his life and viewpoint portents for exploiting human nature. This last part invites enormous reflection which people may evade. To put it crudely, engage Swami Rama  as both the map and the terrain, always  grounded  in the context of daily living, and go prospecting for treasures therein.
         No doubt his life and published works inspire, but we venture  that unless you grow into evaluating  Swami Rama  along the lines in the aforesaid fashion, you miss the most enriching benefits of the encounter. Admiration from afar may be comforting for students. Many remain myth-makers, cheering and rehearsing stories on the sidelines, always ready with a quote. That’s it.
         At the outset, let me propose that the fact of his unique existence far exceeds the common understanding of human potentials. Scientists and pedestrians are astonished by his proven credentials. Then they just leave those exceptional incidences stored in the record book. They cite them as information  but don’t get the facts.
         Based upon a broad survey of his factual history, our intent is to process him more as a primary fact of the actual possibilities of human wellbeing that exceed contemporary paradigms about human development. In no way does this assertion diminish the individual attainments and social  advances by women and men throughout the same period. Simply, his life and words  rendered a boost of understanding to us so that we can likewise access the bountiful resources of human existence that far exceed previous endeavors. Strangely, many fear to make the attempt.
         Moreover, the only way, it seems to me, to garner the abundance of this fact of human potentiality for all its worth  is to learn from his whole person with its factual  implications for human living. We make the concrete fact of his reality available to our scrutiny as much as possible. His life becomes, as it were, our critical polestar.  His individuality and admonitions supply the evidence, the human data, upon which we, in turn, delve, explore,  and  conduct our factual experiments upon  our own nature. The irony of our involvement in participating  in  these  facts in this manner finds us actually assimilating an infusion of  optimal living. Our life proves it. Now we are getting the fact.
         The event of his being illuminates more about human nature and its destiny than all the scriptures and commentaries in India or China. When you take a moment to ponder the power of  him for the individual fact that he is, that pause alone eliminates forever any hint of ‘so what’.
         In closing, our  ambition  is not to admire and revere him as a memorial, as we honor historical figures. Neither is mimicry nor cloning the point. You don’t have to learn Sanskrit or become a Swami. Imitation is not flattery here. Rather, getting the real fact means to become the unique individual that we, in fact, decide for ourselves. To know and love our nature, as he did, is not that what it’s all about?                                                                
 Then we become compos sui.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Who are you?

         As the Twentieth century Sage, Ramana Maharshi remarked: 'The intricate maze of philosophy of different schools is said to clarify matters and reveal Truth.  But in fact they create confusion where no confusion need exist.  To understand anything, there must be Self. The Self is obvious.  Why not remain as the Self?  What need to explain the non-self?  I was indeed fortunate that I never took to philosophy.  Had I taken to it, I would probably be nowhere--always in confusion. My former tendencies directly took me to the inquiry, 'Who am I?'  It was indeed fortunate.’
         Standing before this Sage I am acutely reminded of my deplorable state of spiritual acumen. Yet, may I proffer this riposte: he mentions that he ‘never took to philosophy. Had I taken to it, I would probably be nowhere…’  True enough. Yet for all of that, I would contend  that it’s no less true that in his charming audacity to offer, constantly, to all visitors, the self-provoking question: ‘Who am I?’,  that invitation, clearly, is of the highest philosophical significance.
         His inducement may be cast in an equivalent familiar Western version that echoes from the Delphi Oracle: Know thyself!  In either instance, I submit, these   inquires invite further pursuit. Yet both would be strikingly incomplete without reference to the world at large. We are not isolated beings foraging  on a lonely planet. Would you not, sir, appreciate that the Self can’t know itself without developing  relationships? Without intelligently interfacing with Nature and Culture, we would remain bleak strangers to ourselves.
         To continue further along these lines. These two cited aphorisms belong to a tradition  of beckoning inquiries that we ask ourselves as we grow and live and test our being  in this world. Moreover, without that intercourse, my ‘I’ would remain vacant.  Do we not soon  discover that by our natural affinity to know,  act, and reflect, the objective universe offers the ‘I’  a learning haven to remove ignorance.
         It needs to be fondly remembered that you, sir, came from an unusual, restricted  background, having been born in a poor village in India, unfamiliar with formal education, and being  isolated from normal, societal experiences from early age on. No one is questioning your personal, exquisite route to self-inquiry but only that its value fully expands  as its pursuers take on the challenge of modern living.
         In addition, if I may paraphrase your central probe, ‘Who am I?’, one finds there the personal quest for the nature of humanness, an irresistible way of asking what is human nature all about? And there we have it, for your quest puts us, as does ‘know thyself’, inexorably at home seeking philosophy---the love and pursuit of wisdom.
         In closing, it is unfortunate that you never had the encouragement to scrutinize the Greco-Roman Masters along with the Medieval Schoolmen in Europe. Their ‘clarification’ may have guided you out of your ‘maze’.
The Wanderer